How long before you allowed TV to be a part of the day?
Well, we started out with the “TV isn’t good for a baby” mentality, but that quickly changed.
There was this night in his second or third month that Mr. F refused to go back to sleep after nursing. My wife and I tried all the usual tricks for a while, but our patience was thin — we were in the middle of dinner and an episode of Battlestar Galatica. Fans of that series will understand: you don’t stop watching before the end. (Especially if we’re talking about the first three seasons.)
So we propped him in his swing chair and he watched it with us – seeming to pay special attention to the lovely Caprica 6, I might add – till he dozed off. After that, we had him in front of the TV every night!
No, I’m kidding. But that moment did mark the start of our anti-television stance eroding, in part because it gave us a reality check. The fussy kid calmed down and quickly fell asleep. It had us asking: Is exposing your child to television in small, controlled doses really such a big deal?
In part, such exposure is unavoidable – screens are everywhere.
The bagel shop down the street has a flat-screen mounted on the wall, as do our local supermarkets and even some cafes. Friends and family might have it on when we’re visiting, and in another person’s house I try to be a good guest, sublimating my personal preferences to those of my host. Or at least not making a big stink when the food isn’t organic, or I’m given paper napkins, or we prepare dinner with Cash Cab on in the background. That things are done different is part of the fun (and stress) of being away from home.
(I will put my foot down when my dad tries to watch Judge Judy with me, though. We all have limits.)
Besides these outside influences, the computer on our kitchen counter is nearly always on, acting as a reference for weather and recipes, and a juke box. Mr. F first became familiar with it as a way of connecting with family via skype or by looking at digital photos. The kid loves reviewing his short past.
As the cold weather rolled into town and then decided to stay for a brutally cold winter, we began showing him YouTube videos of Sesame Street skits. Then we found out when The Street airs on our local PBS, and from then on Elmo became a part of our daily life.
At the heart of any parent’s attitude toward television is both how you were raised and how you want to raise your kid. I grew up watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers while my mom did dishes in the kitchen or folded laundry nearby. Once my programs ended she switched off the tube, so television never dominated my day. Books, drawing, and fresh air held greater appeal. I’m not scared that Mr. F will become a screen zombie.
The amount of time you spend with your child also factors in. I’m sure parents who pay for full-time childcare can dictate “no television” and expect (or hope) that the provider abides. As a stay-at-home dad I’m my own boss — or should I say that Mr. F’s the boss. Sometimes I utilize the TV to keep him tethered while I prepare our lunch or complete some other chore. (Like pooping.) And when he’s in a bad mood or I’m tired, vegging out together helps us navigate the rocky waters.
Mr F is not yet two, and it’s rare for him to watch TV for longer than fifteen or twenty minutes before getting antsy. When he does sit for longer, its usually because I’m with him, talking about what we’re watching. I model viewing TV with a discerning eye and alert mind because I want him to be digitally literate, just as I demonstrate active reading or good hygiene.
So in moderation – which is an amount that will differ for every child based on age and temperament – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with television for a child even at a very young age. Of course, I’m no neurologist. Could be that I’m rotting his brain!